East StratCom Task Force
The East StratCom Task Force is a part of the administration of the European Union, focused on proactive communication of EU policies and activities in the Eastern neighbourhood (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) and beyond (Russia itself). The Team was created as a conclusion of the European Council meeting on 19 and 20 March 2015, stressing the need to challenge the ongoing disinformation campaigns by Russia.“
Mission and objectives
The East Stratcom Team is intended to develop dedicated communication material on priority issues, where EU strategic communication needs to be improved or the EU is subject to disinformation campaigns. Such products will be put at the disposal of the EU's political leadership, press services, EU delegations and EU Member States and are intended for the widest possible public audience. The Team is designated to develop communication campaigns, targeting key audiences and focused on specific issues of relevance to those audiences, including local issues. The actions of the East Stratcom Team are built on existing work and coherent with wider EU communication efforts, including activities of the EU institutions and EU Member States.
Key Task Force products
The team's positive communications products are mainly focused on the countries of the Eastern Neighbourhood and produced in the local languages of those countries. They are distributed via social media channels of the EU Delegations in the region, and are also carried on television and via other media and public events. In addition, the Task Force, in cooperation with the European Commission, led the EU's six month Eastern Partnership communications campaign culminating in the November 2017 Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels.
The team's main product to raise awareness of disinformation is the weekly Disinformation Review (in English and Russian languages). This can provide valuable data for analysts, journalists and officials dealing with this issue. The Disinformation Review also brings the latest news and analyses of pro-Kremlin disinformation. Launched in November 2015, the Disinformation Review has been described as "the best weekly disinformation bulletin anywhere in the West". The full record of the Task Force's work on disinformation is available on its website EUvsDisinfo.eu (in English, Russian and German languages). The team also runs the European External Action Service's Russian language website. It is also possible to follow the team on Twitter and Facebook. This communicates primarily about the EU's foreign policy by publishing information about EU activities, as well as EU statements and press releases with relevance to the Eastern Neighbourhood in particular.
Reception and criticism
EU Member State Governments have strongly supported the Task Force since its inception and provide the majority of its staff.
The European Parliament has consistently supported the Task Force and called for adequate staffing and resourcing. An EP preparatory action for 2018 – "StratCom Plus" - has allocated €1.1m for the team to focus on how to counter disinformation on the EU more systematically.
- Pavel Telicka, Vice-President of the European Parliament: "I place great value in the fact that Europe has experts who address Russia's ongoing disinformation campaigns (…). The quality and the substance of their work is outstanding. Their work is valuable as it indicated the alarming nature of our European security".
- Keir Giles from Chatham House about East StratCom Task Force: "a critically important capability, ESTF has quite a high credit among experts".
- European Security Union Commissioner Julian King noted that East Stratcom Task Force "gathered more than 3,500 examples of pro-Kremlin disinformation contradicting publicly available facts repeated on many languages on many occasions”; "It also launched a Russian language service from Brussels, providing updates and fact-based background information about the Union for RU language journalists. The aim is to increase visibility and more accurate representation of EU policies in the Russian language media. It produces a weekly Disinformation review. Their Twitter account ensures that the Task Force's products reach up to 2 million people per month, in addition to their regular briefings. This work is very important".
- Rebecca Harms, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Germany and member of the Greens group: "It's important to have this Stratcom, but its interaction with national bodies is not strong enough".
- Former Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen said that: "They provide an excellent instrument. We would of course not be able to do it in other ways".
- Former Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka: "This team is capable of generating quality results".
- Edward Lucas, vice president at CEPA, said that the East StratCom's Disinformation Review is "the best weekly bulletin on Russian propaganda in the West" next after Ukrainian similar project, StopFake, which he considers to be "the gold standard".
- According to The New York Times, East Stratcom serves as "Europe’s front line against this onslaught of fake news".
- Canadian Maclean's Magazine: "As for who first noticed that Moscow was gunning for Freeland, that’s something that has yet to show up in any banner Canadian headlines. It was the European Union’s East StratCom Task Force, a unit of the External Action Service (the EU’s foreign ministry and diplomatic branch). The Task Force was set up in March 2015 as a kind of early warning system to detect incoming Kremlin disinformation campaigns".
- East StratCom Task Force in EU Observer: "Eight member states have urged the EU's foreign service to significantly expand its work on countering Russian propaganda. They said in a letter to EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini that "in the face of unabated third party disinformation campaigns … we see an urgent need to further enhance the EU's StratCom capabilities (…) East StratCom circulates online notes that debunk Russian disinformation and has attracted 30,000 followers to its Twitter account. It also promotes positive coverage of the EU in former Soviet states". More in EU Observer: "Its Disinformation Review, a weekly newsletter, and its daily tweets and infographics, should be in the laptops and phones of all MEPs and senior EU officials".
- Lawfare Blog about the team: "The task force has made some meaningful contributions to the efforts to counter disinformation warfare. Over the course of its operation, East StratCom has identified over 3,500 disinformation cases (…) These statistics highlight the global nature of the problem, and the benefit of having a body working on disinformation beyond a single country’s borders. East StratCom’s supranational view also allows it to provide valuable insights into the broader strategy and goals of pro-Kremlin disinformation operations because it can see them as a cohesive whole, rather than isolated incidents in individual countries.
An article published October 2016 on Kommunikations Forum analyses the sources East StratCom use for debunking alleged disinformation. It criticizes the top three sites, Ukrainian StopFake, EU and NATO, for not being objective credible sources in this regard.
An opinion piece written by Danish commentator, Iben Thranholm, published on Russia Insider October 2015, were listed by East StratCom as pro-Kremlin disinformation. Member of the Danish Parliament, Marie Krarup, upon discovery raised the issue in January 2017, demanding Foreign Minister, Anders Samuelsen, to take action and stop ‘black listing’ of opinions, which he declined as the listing in his view was correctly labeled 'disinformation in support for Russia'. In response 28 commentators wrote a joint critique stressing their concern that ‘anybody with a critical view on mass immigration could end up in the black book of EU’.
An article published October 2016 on Folkets Avis, lists several instances, where East StratCom has labelled critique of non Western immigration to EU as pro-Kremlin disinformation, regardless that neither the media or the content has any relation to Russia.
Research conducted by investigative journalists at Danish newspaper, Politiken, showed that East StratCom along with Western media falsely blamed separatists, not government forces, in Eastern Ukraine for initiating an offensive in the area of Avdiivka in January 2017. Sources used by East StratCom included InformNapalm which the article shows has ties to Ukrainian death list, Myrotvorets (Peacemaker) that lists people including journalists as 'traitors' for expressing certain opinions or visiting separatist controlled areas in Eastern Ukraine.
Upon discovery of being listed for publishing pro-Kremlin disinformation, three Dutch major media organisations has sued the EU for libel. On 6 March 2018, a majority of 109 votes to 41 of the Dutch Parliament voted to close EUvsDisinfo. On 8 March 2018, East StratCom announced they had deleted the listings of Dutch media in their database "following a detailed review". On 9 March 2018, Dutch Minister of the Interior, who had previously opposed closing EUvsDisinfo, said that the government would make a case for closing it in the European Union. On 13 March 2018 the three Dutch media withdrew their case.
- "EU to counter Russian propaganda by promoting 'European values'". The Guardian. 25 June 2015. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- East StratCom Team. "Action Plan on Strategic Communication" (pdf). Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum. p. 5. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- European Council (2015-03-20). "European Council meeting (19 and 20 March 2015) - Conclusions" (PDF). Brussels. Paragraph 13. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- "Questions and Answers about the East StratCom Task Force - EEAS - European External Action Service - European Commission". EEAS - European External Action Service. Retrieved 2018-03-19.
- "Questions and Answers about the East StratCom Task Force". EEAS - European External Action Service. Material has been copied from this source. Reuse is authorised, provided the source is acknowledged.
- "Eastern Partnership summit, 24/11/2017 - EEAS - European External Action Service - European Commission". EEAS - European External Action Service. Retrieved 2018-03-19.
- Lecture by Edward Lucas, 2016-07-17, retrieved 2018-04-04
- Rankin, Jennifer (2017-11-25). "EU anti-propaganda unit gets €1m a year to counter Russian fake news". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-03-19.
- <firstname.lastname@example.org, UNCHAINED.studio. "Pavel Telička píše F. Mogheriniové. Oceňuje práci East StratCom Task Force". www.telicka.eu (in Czech). Retrieved 2018-03-19.
- "Register of Commission expert groups and other similar entities". ec.europa.eu. Retrieved 2018-03-19.
- "MEPs call for boosting EU resilience to Russian propaganda". New Europe. 2018-01-18. Retrieved 2018-03-19.
- "Plenary video: Russia - the influence of propaganda on EU countries | Multimedia centre | European Parliament". Multimedia centre | European Parliament. Retrieved 2018-03-19.
- Skovgaard, Morten (2017-01-30). "Truslen fra øst eller: Hvordan jeg holdt op med at bekymre mig og lærte at elske sandheden - POV". POV (in Danish). Retrieved 2018-03-19.
- "Premiér Bohuslav Sobotka se zúčastnil Stratcom Summitu 2017" (in Czech). Retrieved 2018-03-19.
- Lecture by Edward Lucas, retrieved 2018-03-19
- Scott, Mark; Eddy, Melissa (2017-02-20). "Europe Combats a New Foe of Political Stability: Fake News". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-19.
- "How Russia's attack on Freeland got traction in Canada - Macleans.ca". Macleans.ca. 2017-03-14. Retrieved 2018-03-19.
- "Mogherini urged to do more on Russian propaganda". Retrieved 2018-03-19.
- "[Opinion] No joke: Russian propaganda poses EU threat". Retrieved 2018-03-19.
- "The European Union Steps Up its Fight Against Fake News". Lawfare. 2017-11-14. Retrieved 2018-03-19.
- "EU tilbageviser propaganda med objektiv sandhed". Kommunikations Forum. 26 October 2016. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
- Jesper, Larsen (24 October 2016). "Analysis of East StratCom sources for debunking pro-Kremlin misinformation". Academia. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
- "Minister: Dansk debattør er korrekt opført på propaganda-liste". Altinget. 12 January 2017. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
- "28 kommentatorer: Udenrigsministeren støtter sortlistning af Iben Thranholm". Berlingske Tidende. 16 January 2017. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
- "EU's East Stratcom: Islamkritik er russisk propaganda". Folkets Avis. 6 October 2016. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
- "EU er fanget i propaganda-krigens tåger". Politiken. 27 February 2017. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
- "Court subpoena in English" (PDF). Kenny Van der Laan lawfirm. 19 February 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
- "Dutch media outlets take EU to court over disinformation claims". Dutch News. 21 February 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
- "Three publications are suing the EU over fake news allegations". Poynter. 28 February 2018. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
- "Gewijzigde motie van de leden Kwint en Yesilgöz-Zegerius over het opheffen van EU versus Disinfo (t.v.v. 21501-34-286) (Proposal to close East StratCom)". Tweede Kamer. 6 March 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
- "Removal of three cases further to complaints by Dutch media". EU vs Disinformation. 8 March 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
- "Kabinet trotseert Kamer over nepnieuwswaakhond (Cabinet defies Chamber about fake news watchdog)". Reformatorisch Dagblad. 6 March 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
- "Ook Ollongren wil nu af van Europese waakhond nepnieuws (Ollongren now also wants to get rid of European watchdog fake news)". NOS. 10 March 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
- "Minister Kajsa Ollongren nu toch tegen anti-nepnieuwsbureau (Minister Kajsa Ollongren now against anti-fake news agency)". The Post Online (TPO). 9 March 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
- "Media trekken kort geding tegen EU om nepnieuws in" (in Dutch). Retrieved 2018-03-19.